Young church to greet dawn
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer
By Mary Kaye Ritz
If all goes as planned tomorrow morning, the Rev. David William Tipton will hear the alarm go off at 4:30 and roll out of bed long before dawn. By daybreak, he and his crew will be on the Kaimuki High School athletic field for the first-ever Easter sunrise service for One Love Ministries.
The 15 early-rising disciples are called Levites after their forebears in the Book of Genesis, who helped service the temple. In this case, however, instead of setting up a tabernacle and wooden benches, there will be electronic sound, lighting equipment and folding chairs.
Sunrise service is a popular way for many area churches to greet the break of Easter morn, one of the holiest days for Christians who celebrate Jesus rising from the dead. Thousands flock to beaches, church grounds and fields from Hawai'i Kai to Wai'anae each year, worshipping in a tradition that goes back more than a century in the Islands.
"Easter is our primary celebration of the year," explained the Rev. Sam Domingo, past president of the Hawai'i Council of Churches, who is overseeing this year's annual sunrise service at Punchbowl. "The resurrection is what the whole faith is based on."
Tipton's One Love Ministries is a young church, and its members tend to skew young, too. So Tipton, 41, decided to make the start time a half-hour later than other, more established sunrise services around town.
"Younger congregations, younger people, tend not to do mornings as easily," Tipton said with a rueful laugh.
Tipton's church is a little more than 1 1/2 years old, meeting initially at Manoa Elementary and now Kaimuki High auditorium on Sunday mornings. Last year, he and many of the 200-plus members of the church attended Easter sunrise services at Magic Island, since they're affiliated with its presenter, Calvary Chapel.
"After last Easter, we decided we wanted to do our own, to bring something to our community," said Tipton, adding that serving their neighborhood residents in Kaimuki — whether members of the church or not — is one of his primary goals. "Easter is one of those occasions that those active and passive in their Christianity take a time of reflection."
Though Calvary Chapel moved its main complex to 'Aiea, it continues to host the 20-year-old Magic Island sunrise service. "It's kind of a tradition," said Calvary Chapel pastor Bill Stonebraker.
"I love the atmosphere of Easter sunrise," Stonebraker added. "(In the first Easter), the women started for the tomb before it was even light, so (a sunrise service) fits very well."
The grand-daddy of Hawai'i's sunrise service, the annual Punchbowl ecumenical effort, is in its 105th year. While it drew up to 7,000 in its 1970s heyday, Domingo said about 1,500 to 2,000 is the average now.
Punchbowl's attendance has been affected by the multiplying sunrise services. Once other church leaders saw the open-air event routinely filling the massive memorial, they decided to host their own. And like Punchbowl's, many of these services are open to like-minded denominations.
"Back in those days, Punchbowl was the only one," Domingo said.
SPREADING THE WORD
In advance of his church's first sunrise service, Tipton worried over some logistical details, including attendance and the sound levels: "I want it to be loud enough, but not (tick) off the neighbors," said Tipton. "Not all of them want to talk about Jesus at 6:30 in the morning."
Members of the congregation papered the neighborhood last weekend with fliers announcing the new sunrise service. They mailed 800 more fliers Monday.
Silvia Espinoza went knocking door to door, handing out fliers, and said she was praying for a good outcome. "A couple of people were excited about it. They said, 'Good, I'll be there.' Others just took it."
While the ceremonies are often without incident, veterans of annual sunrise ceremonies know that anything is possible. Calvary Chapel pastor Stonebraker remembers a downpour that hit his sunrise service just a few years ago: It rained so hard people made a mad dash to the keiki tent or stood fast in the downpour, using their chairs as umbrellas.
Then there was the time the pulpit filled up with water.
"The notes were floating, the ink smearing all over the page," Stonebraker recalled. "I put them in plastic now."
Logistics, however, wouldn't get the better of Tipton, who was encouraged by his Levites' enthusiasm.
"I haven't had to crack the whip or say, 'This is what we are able to do,' " he said. "They were rattling, 'What can we do?' 'What should we bring?' It's like surfers get up at the crack of light. We do whatever we need to do."
One Love Ministries kept its regular service at 9:30 a.m., in case members of the flock decided to sleep in. A communal breakfast and an Easter egg hunt are also planned.
AVOIDING THE SUN
Tipton heard advice from many quarters when he was prepping for his service.
"There's nothing like experience — that's ... our biggest learning curve," Tipton said, adding that he's been loaded up with preparations and other church duties in the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday — normally one of the most exhausting for clergy.
Domingo, who not only has helped with the Punchbowl sunrise service but also his own, suggested he keep the message short and to make a rain plan — "Just be practical, yet hopeful, too," said Domingo, who's seen his fair share of rainy Easter mornings. "You don't really dictate the weather to God."
As for the rain plan, the school is just a stone's throw away from One Love's service.
Stonebraker offered a bit of hard-won wisdom from his first sunrise service: The crew set up the chairs to take advantage of the view over the ocean, but once the sun rose, it was blinding.
"People were shading their eyes with the bulletin," Stonebraker said.
Tipton already had thought of that: He assigned one congregant to the ballfield Wednesday between 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. to do a run-through, checking on the early morning light.
"I've done enough outdoor weddings to know you do the rehearsal at exact same time of the day (as the event)," Tipton said. "You want to know Aunt Edna isn't staring right into the sun."
OLDEST, YOUNGEST CELEBRATIONS
NO. OF PARTICIPANTS AGE START TIME
Punchbowl about 2,000 105 6 a.m.
One Love Ministries 200 1 6:30 a.m.